Compiled by MCJ Editorial Staff
“The Wisconsin Conference of Branches believes absentee and early voting is an effective alternative to in-person voting for the April 7, 2020 election,” wrote Wendell Harris, president of the NAACP Wisconsin Conference of Branches.
The conference’s letter suggested using proper procedures to mitigate health and safety issues related to early voting at selected early voting sites, such as social distancing, bans on large gatherings, the implementation of good hygiene and infection control practices such as hand washing and routine cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and requiring sick employees to stay home.
One of the voting methods the NAACP suggested—early voting (which would have called for the aforementioned safety measures)—was discontinued recently by the city election commission. The city no longer operates in-person absentee or “early” voting at the city’s three locations: Zablocki Library, the Zeidler Municipal Building, or the Midtown Center.
The closers came amid fears by election polling staff of increased risk of CoVid-19 exposure. The commission could no longer maintain sufficient staffing levels to operate the three sites in a manner that would ensure a safe or efficient public voting experience.
Mayor Tom Barrett mentioned the commissions concerns and actions in a letter to Gov. Tony Evers, and state Assembly and Senate leaders asking that the state-wide election be conducted through mail ballots only.
“The staffing situation has become even more challenging as a result of both the local and state ‘stay at home’ orders,” the mayor added. “…We are losing the commitment of dozens of election workers by the hour, including chief inspectors who run the sites,” Barrett said in his letter.
In lieu of the discontinuance of early voting, the only options left suggested by the civil rights organization are requests for a voter registration application by mail, and a request for a ballot by email or fax to the municipal clerk.
Residents who need to register are asked to call the city election commission at 414-286-6119. The application must be received by the clerk no later than 5 p.m. on the Thursday before the election in order for an absentee ballot to be mailed on time. Online voter registration was resumed as of Tuesday, March 24.
Registered voters can request an absentee ballot online. They should go to: “myvote.wi.gov” and click “Vote Absentee.” This request must be made no later than 5 p.m. on the Thursday before the election in order for an absentee ballot to be mailed to them.
Barrett suggested waiving the photo ID requirement since uploading an ID is confusing and cumbersome to voters and many don’t have cell phone or internet access to facilitate the process properly.
He added accommodations also need to be made for the witness requirement as a result of the limits on social mobility and interaction.
The city election commission is currently exploring various alternatives to in-person voting that will be safe to the public.
Barrett asked the governor and legislative leaders to respond and act quickly to his request, noting current state law doesn’t permit the counting of absentee ballots until election day.
The mayor predicted as many as 130,000 absentee ballots could be cast in Milwaukee, compared to the 62,000 in the 2016 presidential election. “We need a significantly longer processing period that begins prior to any election date.
“Timing is of the essence,” Barrett added. “Every day spent preparing for in-person voting is a lot opportunity for municipalities to retool their election systems and regain traction with meeting the already heavy demands for absentee ballots.”